Characterization

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Mordacai

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Jun 2, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/2/97
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I just finished playing a new computer game, Phantasmagoria 2: A
Puzzle of Flesh, by Sierra. I must admit, I rather liked the game, and
thought it succeded admirably in many areas. It used a lot of video, and
the impression was more of a movie than a game, albeit a much more
engrossing movie since YOU were the main character to a degree (just as
i-f can be more engrossing than just any book) One of the best things
about this game however was one of the characters, Trevor. By a
combination of well-written dialogue and pretty good acting, the character
was both real and likable. You got to really caring about him, even more
so than the hero, and when he died it was fairly upsetting (Ok, I'll admit
a small bias since Trevor really reminds me of my boyfriend, but
still...).
What I'm interested in is: How can writers of i-f create characters
like that, who the play will honestly CARE about, honestly feel something
regarding them. This is a hard task I'm sure, but it's effects could make
an average game a masterpiece. First, can anyone think of any instances
where you've actually FELT some emotion regarding an i-f character? The
only one that springs to mind is the woman with the umbrella at the
begining of Trinity and maybe the mother in Tapestry. These were both
very small characters that you didn't really react with much, but they
evoked a little real feeling in me (though not to the degree that Trevor
did in P2). Can anyone think of any others?
And what makes such characters work? I belive (and feel free to
argue this with me) that at least part of it comes from limited
interactivity with these characters. Because of the limits of
programming, trying to interact much with a character reveals the strings
moving the puppet and removes the suspension of disbelief. If we ask a
character about something and keep getting a pat response from him/her,
suddenly the character looses belivability. And yet, it would be totally
impossible to program a character that could behave like a completely real
human being. Think of the thousands of responses to be programmed.
Further, there's not much reality in the means of communication in i-f
games. Sure, "TELL CHARACTER A ABOUT MACGUFFIN B" will work to solve a
puzzle, but it hardly makes for realistic, characterizing dialogue. And
yet how can we change this? I'm not looking for set answers, but I'd like
to open up the floor to discussion.

Ian Finley
mord...@aol.com
"Reality? Ridiculous."

LFrench106

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Jun 3, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/3/97
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[The guy was asking about Characters that you cared about]

I think of Floyd.

[He then invites a flamewar by talking about the strings attached to most
NPC under A/T]

Well, what would you suggest?

I remember Crusader:No Remorse, in which the PC never talked (why? I have
a theory, but the reality is they wanted to avoid characterizing the PC).

I'm done. You can ignore me now.

Terence Fergusson

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Jun 3, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/3/97
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In article <19970603000...@ladder02.news.aol.com>, LFrench106
<lfren...@aol.com> scribed:

>I remember Crusader:No Remorse, in which the PC never talked (why? I have
>a theory, but the reality is they wanted to avoid characterizing the PC).

Not quite true. If I remember correctly, he had one line. In the
intro. I think he goes something like "I've got a bad feeling about
this," or such, just before his two friends get wasted.

Well. This was a pointless and pedantic reply. So, no surprise there
(at least, not from me).

Ciao,
Terence Fergusson
-- Student of Advanced Murphodynamics
-- Stranded in an Anime-free College

mpl

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Jun 3, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/3/97
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I remember being fond of Perry and his simulated wife (Jill?) in A Mind
Forever Voyaging. Guess using the "comfort" command really helps. Ironic, I
suppose, since even within the context of AMFV these folks weren't "real."

Oh, and the lemming in Trinity.


Matthew Murray

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Jun 3, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/3/97
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On 3 Jun 1997, mpl wrote:

> I remember being fond of Perry and his simulated wife (Jill?) in A Mind
> Forever Voyaging. Guess using the "comfort" command really helps. Ironic, I
> suppose, since even within the context of AMFV these folks weren't "real."

Absolutely... Perry, Jill, and Mitchell were all enormously
fleshed out characters in AMFV. But, for that matter, just about
everyone was--Perelman, Ryder, Vera Gold, heck, even Assejh Randu! Some
wonderful characterizations in that game.

===============================================================================
Matthew Murray - mmu...@cc.wwu.edu - http://www.wwu.edu/~mmurray
===============================================================================
The script calls for fusing and using our smarts,
And greatness can come of the sum of our parts.
From now on, I'm with you--and with you is where I belong!

-David Zippel, City of Angels
===============================================================================


Matthew Murray

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Jun 3, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/3/97
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> mord...@aol.com (Mordacai) wrote:
>
> > What I'm interested in is: How can writers of i-f create characters
> > like that, who the play will honestly CARE about, honestly feel something
> > regarding them. This is a hard task I'm sure, but it's effects could make
> > an average game a masterpiece. First, can anyone think of any instances
> > where you've actually FELT some emotion regarding an i-f character? The
> > only one that springs to mind is the woman with the umbrella at the
> > begining of Trinity and maybe the mother in Tapestry. These were both
> > very small characters that you didn't really react with much, but they
> > evoked a little real feeling in me (though not to the degree that Trevor
> > did in P2). Can anyone think of any others?

I couldn't find the original message, so I'll just reply to this one
instead.
I think that just about all the characters in A Mind Forever
Voyaging are, especially Perry, Jill, Mitchell, and Perelman. To a
lesser extent Ryder, but still fairly well done--even the characters we
never see but know about, such as Vera Gold and Assejh Randu seem like
real people! Amazing considering they never appear! (Most computer
games these days can't do that well with characters who are in every scene!)
I don't know if "care" would be a good word, but I felt that
Cousin Herman was very well fleshed-out in Hollywood Hijinx. By the end
of that game, you really feel like you know this person--again, a good
achievement. I cared a lot for Belboz all throughout the Enchanter
Trilogy, but especially during Sorcerer, of course. I also liked the
characterization of Dimwit Flathead--he was integral part of many games,
though he made an appearance in very, very few. As someone else has
already mentioned, the old woman in Trinity, though I think that is to a
lesser degree than some of the others mentioned.
I think, as a rule, Infocom was generally very good about getting
you to care about the characters, even the more minor ones.

Torbj|rn Andersson

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Jun 4, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/4/97
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mord...@aol.com (Mordacai) wrote:

> What I'm interested in is: How can writers of i-f create characters
> like that, who the play will honestly CARE about, honestly feel something
> regarding them. This is a hard task I'm sure, but it's effects could make
> an average game a masterpiece. First, can anyone think of any instances
> where you've actually FELT some emotion regarding an i-f character? The
> only one that springs to mind is the woman with the umbrella at the
> begining of Trinity and maybe the mother in Tapestry. These were both
> very small characters that you didn't really react with much, but they
> evoked a little real feeling in me (though not to the degree that Trevor
> did in P2). Can anyone think of any others?

Tricky question. There have been lots of characters I've liked, but
that's not quite what you are asking about, is it?

Characters that made me, as you put it, FEEL some emotion are much
fewer, but I'd definitely include Jill and Dr Perelman from A Mind
Forever Voyaging, and maybe George from Deadline.

> And what makes such characters work? I belive (and feel free to
> argue this with me) that at least part of it comes from limited
> interactivity with these characters. Because of the limits of
> programming, trying to interact much with a character reveals the strings
> moving the puppet and removes the suspension of disbelief. If we ask a
> character about something and keep getting a pat response from him/her,
> suddenly the character looses belivability.

That's a very good question.

Jill, I think, worked for several different reasons. For one thing,
she seems like a very nice woman, and since you only get to actually
see her at 10 year intervals, the changes in her are quite striking.
That what you see is coloured by Perry's perception of her also serves
to make her seem more real.

Perelman is also a character that I found instantly likeable, though
for different reasons. It's so obvious from the way he acts that he
sees his creation as more than just a machine. It's also obvious that
he is quite overworked, which meant he could be visible a lot of the
time, without having to do much interaction with the player.

As for George ... well, George is the obvious scapegoat of the story
(if, that is, you discount the possibility of suicide :-), and he
knows very well that he is not universally liked, which gave him a
somewhat defensive attitude. For some reason, that appealed to me.

_
Torbjorn


Andrew Plotkin

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Jun 4, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/4/97
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Matthew Murray (mmu...@statler.cc.wwu.edu) wrote:
> I don't know if "care" would be a good word, but I felt that
> Cousin Herman was very well fleshed-out in Hollywood Hijinx. By the end
> of that game, you really feel like you know this person--again, a good
> achievement. I cared a lot for Belboz all throughout the Enchanter
> Trilogy, but especially during Sorcerer, of course. I also liked the
> characterization of Dimwit Flathead--he was integral part of many games,
> though he made an appearance in very, very few. As someone else has
> already mentioned, the old woman in Trinity, though I think that is to a
> lesser degree than some of the others mentioned.
> I think, as a rule, Infocom was generally very good about getting
> you to care about the characters, even the more minor ones.

I'd also mention Wishbringer. Lots of real characters there, particularly
the two witches. As a children's story the characters aren't terribly
complicated, but that doesn't mean they didnn't come alive.

--Z

--

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the
borogoves..."

Joe Mason

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Jun 6, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/6/97
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"Characterization", declared Mordacai from the Vogon ship:

M> What I'm interested in is: How can writers of i-f create
M>characters like that, who the play will honestly CARE about, honestly
M>feel something regarding them. This is a hard task I'm sure, but it's
M>effects could make an average game a masterpiece. First, can anyone

If you ask me, its in the details. The same thing that makes a
character work in static fiction - they should be able to surprise you.
They should be described with flair and compassion. Add little details
to them that the player will remember, and they will seem much more
real.

For a slightly more concrete comment, I'd like to add that the
characters should at least seem to have a life outside the game. Dr.
Perelman had his letter of resignation, and all the meetings he had to
go to, which reinforced the fact that he doesn't just sit in his office
waiting for PRISM to talk to him. Edward from Christminster had his
schoolwork. Floyd has his memories - and finding Lazarus' breastplate
was one of the things that made the character for me.

M>think of any instances where you've actually FELT some emotion
M>regarding an i-f character? The only one that springs to mind is the

When Edward came out crying about his parrot, I went back and replayed
the opening puzzle three or four times to see if there was any way I
could do it without letting the parrot loose. I was very disappointed
in myself.

And, of course, the biggest heartbreaker of them all - the trapped boy
in So Far.

Joe

ş CMPQwk 1.42 9550 şThe scenery only changes for the lead dog.

A Mind Forever Wandering

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Jun 7, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/7/97
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>mpl wrote:
>
> I remember being fond of Perry and his simulated wife (Jill?) in A Mind
> Forever Voyaging. Guess using the "comfort" command really helps. Ironic, I
> suppose, since even within the context of AMFV these folks weren't "real."

Well, absolutely ... my own fondness for this game and the characters in
it is pretty self-evident! I was also quite fond of Dr Perelman, and
even Mitchell.

Floyd was one of the other characters I got very attached to. It took me
ages to finish "Stationfall" because I didn't want to shoot him ... poor
old Floyd.

A Mind Forever Wandering

dave andersen

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Jun 10, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/10/97
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I say that Steve Meretzky was the BEST text adventure writer.
Agreed? He wrote both AMFV *and* Stationfall. I say HE brought
*characterization* to i-f. I want to add that i feel Sorcerer
is the best of the Enchanter series because of Meretzky's talent
at not merely characterization, but storyline as well. I loved
the dream sequence w. the hellhounds when you first start out.
And the Infotator w. all those cool critters. Was a very clever
mood piece that also served as copy protection. However, if
we are to talk characterization, i'd have to agree that Floyd
was tops!

davearnt

A Mind Forever Wandering (morg...@ozemail.com.au) wrote:

Jon Petersen

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Jun 11, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/11/97
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dave andersen wrote:
> I want to add that i feel Sorcerer
> is the best of the Enchanter series because of Meretzky's talent
> at not merely characterization, but storyline as well.

What do other people think of Sorceror? I've always thought that
Sorceror, while fun, was the least successful of the Enchanter series.
Both the story and setting seem thin to me. There are a lot of rooms,
but many of them are empty or have nothing to do but get killed, which
is of course a classic no-no. There are a couple of great puzzles (the
glass maze and of couse the time-travel scene), but a lot of the rest
are weak (I particularly dislike the carnival scene for some reason).
The spells are not as useful or as well-fleshed out as in Enchanter or
Spellbreaker. The endgame is decent but not as interesting as either of
the other two games. As for characterization, are there even any
characters you can speak with (besides yourself)? My opinion of
Sorceror is that the little details are brilliant (the long For Your
Amusement list, the Encyclopedia, AIMFIZ MERETZKY), but the game itself
is fun but not great (for Infocom; great for most anyone else).
I agree with you about AMFV and Stationfall though.
Did he actually write LGOP2?

Jon

Matthew Daly

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Jun 12, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/12/97
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Very mild Sorcerer spoilers ahead. Not enough enough for a pagebreak.

Jon Petersen <en...@ucla.edu>, if that is your REAL name, said:
>dave andersen wrote:
>> I want to add that i feel Sorcerer
>> is the best of the Enchanter series because of Meretzky's talent
>> at not merely characterization, but storyline as well.
>
>What do other people think of Sorceror? I've always thought that
>Sorceror, while fun, was the least successful of the Enchanter series.
>Both the story and setting seem thin to me. There are a lot of rooms,
>but many of them are empty or have nothing to do but get killed, which
>is of course a classic no-no.

I think that part of the concept was to experiment with tons of
red herrings in the game, empty rooms and objects that served no
purpose in the game. I mean, you might have played with that
floor waxer for weeks trying to figure out why the author would
have given it to you.

>There are a couple of great puzzles (the
>glass maze and of couse the time-travel scene), but a lot of the rest
>are weak

The story that I've heard, which may or may not be true, is that
Sorcerer is a compilation of all of the puzzles that the Implementors
couldn't fit into Dungeon. It certainly seems like more of an
amalgam of puzzles than a coherent world, although those two
specific puzzles are classics of the genre.

>(I particularly dislike the carnival scene for some reason).

I didn't like it because there was a roller coaster, a flume, and a
haunted house that all served no purpose at all, except perhaps to
disguise the fact that the ball-throwing game was relevant.

>The spells are not as useful or as well-fleshed out as in Enchanter or
>Spellbreaker.

I don't know what you mean by that. The spells are useful enough to
accomplish your task, but that's sort of like saying that your legs
are long enough to reach the ground. It was interesting that there
were two different spells that would allow you to fly, but you wound
up needing both of them to succeed.

>The endgame is decent but not as interesting as either of
>the other two games.

That's true. I suppose it's possible to screw the last few lines
up, but I think that you have to go out of your way to do it.
(i.e. not casting the "protect yourself from possession" spell
when you first see it).

>As for characterization, are there even any
>characters you can speak with (besides yourself)?

There aren't a lot of games before Sorcerer that are much better
in that regard. Deadline, Witness, and Suspended, of course,
although NPC interaction is the cornerstone of those games instead
of a sidepoint. I think that Infocom must have been working on
generic NPC code at the time, because the games right after it
(Seastalker, Cutthroats, HGTTG) were the start of the trend of
great baseline NPCs in a game.

>My opinion of
>Sorceror is that the little details are brilliant (the long For Your
>Amusement list, the Encyclopedia, AIMFIZ MERETZKY), but the game itself
>is fun but not great (for Infocom; great for most anyone else).

Yeah, I mean it started the ball rolling on the time-travel puzzle,
and it did something interesting with mazes for a change. Your
collection wouldn't be complete without it, but there's no reason to
play the game once a year for nostalgia.

-Matthew
--
Matthew Daly I feel that if a person has problems communicating
mwd...@kodak.com the very least he can do is to shut up - Tom Lehrer
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Matthew Murray

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Jun 12, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/12/97
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On Wed, 11 Jun 1997, Jon Petersen wrote:

> dave andersen wrote:
> > I want to add that i feel Sorcerer
> > is the best of the Enchanter series because of Meretzky's talent
> > at not merely characterization, but storyline as well.
>
> What do other people think of Sorceror? I've always thought that
> Sorceror, while fun, was the least successful of the Enchanter series.
> Both the story and setting seem thin to me. There are a lot of rooms,
> but many of them are empty or have nothing to do but get killed, which

> is of course a classic no-no. There are a couple of great puzzles (the


> glass maze and of couse the time-travel scene), but a lot of the rest

> are weak (I particularly dislike the carnival scene for some reason).

> The spells are not as useful or as well-fleshed out as in Enchanter or

> Spellbreaker. The endgame is decent but not as interesting as either of
> the other two games. As for characterization, are there even any

Okay, I understand what you're saying, but I don't think I
entirely agree with it. I think that the style did have to be different,
because it tells a different kind of story. Remember that Enchanter and
Spellbreaker both involve one mage--you--working for the betterment of an
extremely large number of people. In Enchanter, you are a novice magic
user trying to do this. In Spellbreaker, you are an experienced magic
user trying to use this, but in both, the goal is essentially the same.
(Well, as you progress in Spellbreaker, the goal changes a little, but
the idea essentially works.)
But Sorcerer is different--it's much more involved, personal story. You
are trying to get Belboz back. This is, essentially, a story about >you<
doing something for >you<. Yes, there are some, more indirect
consequences of your actions (especially if you fail), but for the most
part Sorcerer happens because of you and >for< you, so yes, it's a very
different type of game, but I think it has to be. It is the necessary
bridge between Enchanter and Spellbreaker, and effectively represents the
journey you make growing from a minor magic user to the most powerful of
them all. On this basis, I think the game utterly succeeds. As the game
is pretty much you against the world, the darker, more secluded, and in
some cases scarier, style works toward what the game is trying to
accomplish, rather than against it as far as I'm concerned.
I see Sorcerer as the necessary link in the chain connecting
Enchanter and Spellbreaker together. Because it is the most personally
involving, and because, emotionally, it's the strongest of the three, I
think it's the best in the trilogy. Spellbreaker and Enchanter both have
their moments--quite a few of them--but overall, the emotional intensity
of Sorcerer I think makes it the most memorable and most interesting.

> I agree with you about AMFV and Stationfall though.

Well, I don't know about Stationfall, but for all intents and
purposes, I consider A Mind Forever Voyaging a masterpiece. I have yet
to see a better computer game, and I sometimes doubt very highly whether
I ever will.

Carl Muckenhoupt

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Jun 12, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/12/97
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Matthew Daly wrote:
>
> I think that part of the concept was to experiment with tons of
> red herrings in the game, empty rooms and objects that served no
> purpose in the game.

Can it really be called an "experiment" to do this after Planetfall?

> The story that I've heard, which may or may not be true, is that
> Sorcerer is a compilation of all of the puzzles that the Implementors
> couldn't fit into Dungeon. It certainly seems like more of an
> amalgam of puzzles than a coherent world, although those two
> specific puzzles are classics of the genre.

Hmm, there may be something to this. The coal mine scene does contain a
puzzle from the coal mine in Dungeon that didn't make it into the Zork
trilogy. (The red palantir was originally halfway down a chute, just
like the time-travel scroll. But when they broke up Dungeon into the
Zork Trilogy, the coal mine wound up in Zork 1 and the palantirs wound
up in Zork 2.) And mailing in the matchbook certainly seems like
something that should have been a puzzle in Zork 1, where you have a
matchbook and a mailbox available.

> >The spells are not as useful or as well-fleshed out as in Enchanter or
> >Spellbreaker.
>

> I don't know what you mean by that. The spells are useful enough to
> accomplish your task, but that's sort of like saying that your legs
> are long enough to reach the ground. It was interesting that there
> were two different spells that would allow you to fly, but you wound
> up needing both of them to succeed.

This sounds to me like a complaint about general applicability - that
is, in how many places can use use the spell and get more than an excuse
as a result? I don't remember Sorceror being particularly bad in this
regard, but it's been a while. I suppose there were some violations -
for example, the "magic land mines" that explode even if you fly over
them, or the frotz-proof haunted house in the amusement park. All the
same, there were more places where izyuk could save you from death than
there were places where it failed to do so for no good reason. And
there are several things that exist solely to make malyon less of a
one-use spell, so it's clear that Meretzky was aware of the problem.

Spellbreaker was much better at providing reusable spells, it's true.
The best part, IMHO, was realizing that some of the spells you had grown
accustomed to casting on other creatures could also be cast on
yourself. However, it also gave us a lot more lame excuses - most
spells cast on the roc or the guards at the manse, for example, just
fail for unsatisfying reasons.

Incedentally, I've been playing Spiritwrak lately, and although I find
it for the most part enjoyable, it also has a maddening tendency to
arbitrarily declare particular things invulnerable to particular
spells. Perhaps it's more vulnerable to this sort of problem because it
has so very many spells, and because it so seldom prevents the player
from re-visiting locations with new spells.

Jon Petersen

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Jun 13, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/13/97
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Matthew Daly wrote:
>
>
> >The spells are not as useful or as well-fleshed out as in Enchanter or
> >Spellbreaker.
>
> I don't know what you mean by that. The spells are useful enough to
> accomplish your task, but that's sort of like saying that your legs
> are long enough to reach the ground.

I meant that most of the spells have only one use, which often seems
really obvious. They seemed more well-fleshed out to me in the other
two games because many of the spells were used in multiple ways; in
Sorcerer it seems like your list of spells is long at the expense of
depth, if that makes any sense.

Just some guy

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Jun 14, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/14/97
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I don't know if graphical adventures qualify, but I think there were a
few moments in Sierra's "Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness" that
nearly had me in tears. Just my $0.02
mark

Matthew Murray

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Jun 14, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/14/97
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Really? I would love to know what you thought they were--I was
crying for several reasons in Shadows of Darkness, but certainly for
no reasons having anything to do with anything about the game being good...

Joe Mason

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Jun 14, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/14/97
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"Re: Characterization", declared Matthew Murray from the Vogon ship:

MM>concerned. I see Sorcerer as the necessary link in the chain
MM>connecting Enchanter and Spellbreaker together. Because it is the
MM>most personally involving, and because, emotionally, it's the
MM>strongest of the three, I think it's the best in the trilogy.
MM>Spellbreaker and Enchanter both have their moments--quite a few of
MM>them--but overall, the emotional intensity of Sorcerer I think makes
MM>it the most memorable and most interesting.

So it's kind of like The Empire Strikes Back, you're saying? Hmmm.

Joe
Joe

ş CMPQwk 1.42 9550 şIt is easier to be critical than to be correct.

Matthew Murray

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Jun 15, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/15/97
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On Sat, 14 Jun 1997, Joe Mason wrote:

> "Re: Characterization", declared Matthew Murray from the Vogon ship:
>
> MM>concerned. I see Sorcerer as the necessary link in the chain
> MM>connecting Enchanter and Spellbreaker together. Because it is the
> MM>most personally involving, and because, emotionally, it's the
> MM>strongest of the three, I think it's the best in the trilogy.
> MM>Spellbreaker and Enchanter both have their moments--quite a few of
> MM>them--but overall, the emotional intensity of Sorcerer I think makes
> MM>it the most memorable and most interesting.
>
> So it's kind of like The Empire Strikes Back, you're saying? Hmmm.

Yes, I think that's exactly what I'd say.

Eric Rossing

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Jun 17, 1997, 3:00:00 AM6/17/97
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On Sat, 14 Jun 1997 12:30:03 -0700, Just some guy <dig...@usa.net> wrote:

: I don't know if graphical adventures qualify, but I think there were a
: few moments in Sierra's "Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness" that
: nearly had me in tears. Just my $0.02

Interesting. I found it the least engaging of the four. I enjoyed it, but
I was actually somewhat disappointed at the ending. I'd gotten the
impression that there was more to the plot than there was early on, and the
wrapup seemed rather anti-climactic.

Perhaps it was that, or the animation style, which was somewhat more
cartoony than the other three, but I was much less drawn in by SoD.

Eric Rossing
ros...@iname.com
http://home.msen.com/~rossing
PGP Public key available on my WWW page
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